Mary Jo's Poem (or else Dante's)
Look! It’s the beast with the pointed tail,
Who leaps tall mountains and shatters barriers—
Stone wall or high-tech weapon. Look! It’s him
Who stinks up the world.
If you are ever knocking around New York on Maundy Thursday which I can tell you this coming year is on April 5th you should go up to John the Divine on the upper west side and hear the beautiful cacophony and ripe experiment that is the annual reading of The Inferno. It’s too long so they don’t read the whole thing but they read cantos from many different translations and standing there listening in the dim church during Easter week is a specific kind of fun. Generally you don’t see an epic poem treated this way repeatedly. I think some of the appeal of The Inferno is that it is the epic poem of western culture and isn’t that about to end. I’m feeling it, aren’t you? Might it happen during 2012, this year? I mean that’s what people are saying. So get up there if there is a there. I’ve only made it twice myself but I can report that all the voices and the interpretations and the poem itself writhing and pumping through all these different minds and bodies constitutes a very real hit of what the act of translation is. It’s a tearing and a joining and a meeting and a passing through. I don’t even know if I like Dante’ Inferno but I’m family somehow so Maundy (which means begging) Thursday calls me and I’m calling you. Maybe we should Occupy Dante this year. Last spring I read in this event and I had my canto in my shaking hands I was reading from the very kinetic version I’ve quoted from above. Mary Jo Bang’s Inferno is quacking with aliveness. I merely had to open my mouth and her words came bursting forth to the stunned delight of a highly sophisticated Dante audience. The creature her four lines are talking about is Geryon who interestingly is also the mythical star of Ann Carson’s Autobiography of Red. He’s been working a lot in these past eleven years. Taking Geryon down was one of the labors of Hercules but since Inferno is an afterlife tale that has already happened, way back then. Geryon (the grandson of Medusa) is one part snake, one part man and one furry animal so he is a stunning sight, both opening spectacle and vehicle of the canto since he carries Dante and Virgil and us, too, I guess, on his back to the end of the canto. He’s sort of a new old smelly Superman, there to be spoken badly about and climbed on. He’s a user. A fraud. Canto XVII takes place in the circle of hell meant for those who became rich charging high interest rates on loans. Perfect huh? There should be a place, not a rehab but a flaming pen. Speaking of which I merely wanted to send you a smoking cut from the adventure coming – Mary Jo’s new poem that will burn us all awake. It’s the hell of the coming year!
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. They gave their first reading at CBGB's and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where they studied with Ted...